March 06, 2006


Pericles asked a question that I thought about a lot last night and that I'd like to answer as honestly as I can.

What I'm not sure that you recognize, at least not consistently, is that people who disagree vehemently with you can still love their country passionately. I question the intelligence and competence of Bush and his ilk, but I have never questioned their patriotism. I completely disagree with their vision about what is best for America, but I don't doubt that they are motivated by a concern for doing what is best. Based on my observations, you don't always give the people with whom you disagree that same kind of credit. Am I wrong?

I do in fact think you are wrong. I don't doubt either that John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Ralph Nader think that their plan of action is the best choice for America. You make it sound like I believe they're all in some dark room musing, "How can we make the US worse?" I think that Hillary Clinton honestly believes that her plans for health care, education, or business are in our country's best interest. But do I want to live anywhere near Hillary Clinton's version of America? Heck no.

There's a big difference between questioning someone's patriotism and questioning their credentials. You question Bush's intelligence, which is your prerogative, and I question the intelligence of others as well. Back to George Clooney as always, my beef is not with his patriotism but his knowledge. Why is a college dropout who played a doctor on TV someone we go to when we want political commentary? I have a hard time believing that Clooney spends nearly the time I do online reading various news sources, so why does anyone care what he thinks? I asked a Lefty about this once recently, and she said, "Gosh, I never thought about it because I just agree with what he says." Questioning his expertise is not the same thing as questioning his patriotism.

I think the "don't question my patriotism" phrase is overused and most of the time is a red herring. It's like calling someone a racist for opposing affirmative action: it's the easy zinger that often has nothing to do with the argument. However, I tried to think about it a lot last night, and I realized that it depends a lot on how you define patriotism.

Do you define patriotism as simply love for your country? Do you define it as the thought that your country is better than others? Do you define it as putting your country ahead of yourself? Do you define it as being willing to sacrifice for your country? What's the definition? Because I know a lot of people who don't have any of these feelings for the US.

I don't know many people like you, Pericles. I feel I've sort of gotten to know you through your comments, and I basically get the impression that you love an ideal version of the US that's neither represented by the Republicans nor the Democrats. Please correct me if my assessment is wrong, but that's what I have gleaned. But most of the people I've come in contact with are nothing like you. I was a French and International Studies major and I got an MA in ESL. I was constantly surrounded by people who jumped at the chance to be anywhere but the USA. My colleagues consistently thought that France/China/Fill-In-The-Blank was better than the US. When they travelled, they were ashamed to admit they were Americans. They graduated and many looked for ways to leave the US and find something better. They thought the grass would be greener anywhere but the USA.

So do I question their patriotism? I do. They don't have any deep feelings for their own country. And any feelings they might have include shame and guilt. Is shame for your country patriotism? They don't have a deep love for America that transcends their hate for Bush. They just don't want to be in the US, period. I'm sorry if I'm a bad person for refusing to see them as patriots. I'm sorry that the internet is filled with stories of yahoos who hate our flag and our country. Yes, I question these people's patriotism, and none of them are Republicans. That doesn't mean that I automatically question every non-Repub's patriotism, but I can't help but notice the consistent trend.

I respect people who love our country even if "Bush and his ilk" don't fit the bill, but like I said I simply don't know many people like this. If Hillary Clinton were elected president, the US would move further away from what I consider the ideal, but you can bet I'd still wear my US flag pins and leave the big USA country code sticker on the bumper of our car. Because I love my country no matter who's at the wheel and I still think she's the best country in the world.

Posted by: Sarah at 04:56 AM | Comments (18) | Add Comment
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1 Sarah, Very well said (as usual). This argument makes me think about anything or anyone I love. For example, I love my husband...And I don't go on the news criticizing him, I don't sit around the house complaining about him. I don't blog about him being an idiot. And I certainly don't insist on the right to do so. If I did, people would wonder why I am married to him! I think the same thing goes for America. I think people that truly love America don't incessantly criticize her.

Posted by: Erin at March 06, 2006 06:57 AM (U0Xxw)

2 "Why are our universities so durned un-American?" That was the most recent statement that I had in mind when I asked that question. Someday when I have some time on my hands----man, when will that be?---I might comb through past months of the blog looking to see if there is more of the same. And there might not be; I may have been unfair to you. Reading Erin's comment gives me a theory about how that might have happened, which is that when I read your posts and a lot of comments from people who are basically "in your corner" at the same time, then I walk away from the computer, what you said and what they said may start to run together in my mind. If you're more measured in what you say than they are, then this unfair to you. Here's a non-pointed question we can all think about, including (especially) Erin. What does it mean to love your own country, or to hate it? It certainly doesn't mean to love the leaders that it has at any one point. Our Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves over the suggestion that we ought to do that. And no one consistently does this. I feel extremely confident that whoever commented in another thread yesterday that we should all be united behind our democratically elected presidemt would be bitching constantly if Kerry had won. In a democracy, we have to be able to criticize our leaders, in order to make informed decisions about how to vote next time. I think that what I love most about America is its founding principles (except for the slavery part, which took awhile to straighten out). So maybe Sarah is right that what I love is a very idealized version of America. For me, pointing out ways in which the reality falls short of the principles is an expression of love for the country, not hate. Putting those principles into practice is an incredibly hard thing, and I give us some credit for having done as well as we have, although that doesn't stop me from always wanting and expecting more.

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 07:43 AM (eKf5G)

3 Well, the "durned un-American" was more of a play on words that I was tying back to the quote that my professor gave me. Maybe those exact words backfired on me. Regardless, I don't think admitting a terrorist to your university is a very pro-American thing to do... And I can't help but think that people criticize Pres Bush at the kneejerk level sometimes. I think we should be able to criticize our leaders, but I don't necessarily think that "dissent is the highest form of democracy" or whatever the bumper sticker says. Dissent for the sake of dissent gets old, and I feel sometimes that Bush is damned no matter what he does: even when his Republican base is hopping mad at his decisions, few Democrats are happy. They seem to hate him even when he does exactly what Clinton did (I have Kyoto in mind right now). Meh, whatever. I can't imagine what might possess you to re-read my entire blog to try to trip me up over something I once articulated poorly, but be my guest if that floats your boat.

Posted by: Sarah at March 06, 2006 10:40 AM (DzQAT)

4 My working definition of a patriot is someone who acts in such a way that the consequences of their actions promote the interests of their country. It is not terribly patriotic, in my judgement, for a person to complain and carp about everything that is not going right, especially so when the volume is only turned up for the negatives. Well-informed criticism, on the other hand, is in line with patriotism, so long as it is intellectually honest and presented in a way that takes pains to avoid taking the side of our adversaries (namely, those who do not have our interests at heart). One of the first-order effects of the constant Bush administration bashing is that it makes it harder to convince our enemies (for we most assuredly have them) that we are in this to win, and another is that it makes the administration much less receptive to well-founded criticism. Both are bad for this country, which is why I regard ill-informed complaining to be unpatriotic. Ill-informed, by the way, also includes people who know only one side of the argument; If you are versed only in the talking points of one side, you are hardly in a position to make balanced decisions, especially if you choose to use condescending and arrogant language in somebody else's space! If you believe in the structural integrity of your opinions, then how can there be harm in being polite? Everyone involved is more likely to learn something that way, which advances the cause of patriotism. -piercello

Posted by: piercello at March 06, 2006 11:51 AM (plBen)

5 The idea of looking at old posts wouldn't have been to "trip you up"; I don't know where that comes from. Anyway, you're right that much criticism of Bush is kneejerk. Would you agree with e that much support for him is also? Kneejerkiness is no more a disease of the left than it it is the right; there are thinking and non-thinking people on both sides of the spectrum. It seems to me that every President frequently faces the problem of being damned no matter he does. I'm not sure quite how old you are, or quite how much of the Clinton presidency you remember. Criticism of him was unrelenting, even before Monica. People seriously sugggested that he had had aides like Vince Foster and Ron Brown killed! Sometimes it sounds like you think that the treatment Bush gets is novel, as if Presidents have always been put on a pedestal until now... Think about the treatment Kerry got during the election, by people like the Swifties. Would THAT have stopped if he had won? As far as Piercello's comments are concerned, let me start out by reminding you not confuse me with Sarah's other regular critic, Mr. Silly. I'll leave him to speak for himself, but I feel like I've maade an effort to be polite here. Let's remember that the condenscending thing goes both ways, though. What was it that Sarah's magnet said the other day? Actually, it wasn't the magnet I'm thinking of, but the line that the web site had below it "Even Bushisms make more sense than liberals." I don't hold Sarah responsible for that, and in fact I don't even mind it. Barbed political humor is fine, as long as it can go both ways. I'm not sure that some people here wouldn't consider "Bush is an idiot" jokes to be unfair and out of bounds. Anyway, I'm just a little uncomfortable with the idea that "Critism is fine, as long as it avoids taking the side of our advesaries." If Bin Laden says that we should not have invaded Iraq, am I taking his side if I say the same thing? My reasons are different, of course. I don't disagree with you that we have enemies, or that some of them must be killed by our military. I have real differences with Bush's overall strategy, though, and I simply can't agree that I shouldn't be allowed to express them. And I think I'm reasonably well informed. I don't know everything. I haven't had the experience of being in Iraq. On the other hand, I think I know some things that are relevant to the debate that most people who have served in Iraq don't know, so I don't accept that they are the only experts and I'm not allowed to have an opinion. The idea that we should understand both sides of the deabte is important. Why do I get the feeling, though, that the implication was that of course all supporters of the war already grok everything the critics have to say?

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 02:47 PM (eKf5G)

6 By the way, about this "admitting a terrorist to your university isn't very patriotic " thing. I posted this in that thread, but too late for anyone else to see it: Why is he in the country to begin with? That is the real question. Why criticize Yale for admitting him to a non-degree program, but not criticize the Bush administration for allowing him to be here to take the classes to begin with?

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 02:52 PM (eKf5G)

7 This is the kind of commenting I can appreciate! Pericles, if you've read or seen anything about what kind of visa this guy is on or how he got in the country, let me know. I'd be interested in looking into that when I find the time. Believe me, I have very little faith in the INS! This guy has no business being here, in my opinion. It irks me on a security level that he was allowed in the country, but it irks me a tad bit more, on an emotional level, that Yale fawned all over him like a rock star and wooed him to their school.

Posted by: Sarah at March 06, 2006 04:09 PM (DzQAT)

8 It is a student visa. The only other thing I know is that he was involved in a debate about the Taliban at Yale prior to 9/11. I'm not going to defend Yale; it is one of the most conservative of the major universities in the country, so let the conservatives defend it. But maybe the guy did something to redeem himself after 9/11? I have no idea. But his presence in the country would be more comprensible if he said "Fark this" after 9/11.

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 04:39 PM (eKf5G)

9 It sounds like a Republican wouldn't care if their country turned into a Facist state as long as the leader called himself a Republican. What is not patriotic about bashing the government, exactly? What's not patriotic about standing up for your rights as an individual? You, Sarah, you try to imply that democrats hate America when a republican leader is in power. You're wrong, you know. Hating a republican leader is a really different thing from hating America. In my opinion, it's the opposite of hating America. So wear your US flag pins when a democrat takes power. And I'll fly my flag while Bush is in power. Because to me, Bush does not equal patriotism or the principals of the United States of America. No one leader does.

Posted by: Will Somerset at March 06, 2006 06:09 PM (eIQfa)

10 Well said, Pericles! I was deliberately ambiguous about who I was targeting with my comment above, but you were not in those particular crosshairs. ;-) Let me also try to be more clear with regard to my differentiation between criticism and complaint. I think that much of the aforementioned complaining and carping falls into the category of negatively defining our options, either before or after the fact. The example you gave, that of not invading Iraq, is a classic negative definition. The problem with attempting to define a policy negatively is that it can be done an infinite number of ways without ever saying what it really is. Because no central position is ever positively defined, no debate is possible, and progress toward a workable solution is drastically impeded. I would describe such a negatively formatted claim as complaint, or carping if it is exceptionally unimaginative and/or repetitious. A shared negative definition with Bin Laden does not automatically constitute a shared policy goal, in the same way that each of us not liking apples would say nothing about our fruity preferences. Even if someone provides me with impeccable facts and reasoning in support of a negative policy (we shouldn't have invaded Iraq, because of x, y, and z), no opportunity for policy debate exists, because we must make policy decisions in real time (no pause button for figuring things out), and because no alternative has been offered, discovery of the best available course of action is not significantly advanced. I suggest that this type of argument may reaches the level of criticism, but certainly falls short of constructive criticism. The only debate that has any hope of achieving understanding in time to be useful is the one in which the participants clearly and positively state their goals, so that their policies can be examined in equal light in order that the best choice may be made. The internet facilitates all types of disagreement, but it is this last type of discussion that provides the tremendous opportunity for constructive change the internet offers. Articulating a course of action positively is easier said than done, I know--learning is the process of moving from negative to positive definition through trial and error, but it can take a looong time...and we don't always have enough, which is why merely complaining is usually a politically losing move. And finally, you are absolutely right with regard to political humor! It should be free to cut in any direction; those who wish to skewer their opponents with it should play by the same rules as when they are skewered, or be roundly condemned for hypocrisy. Thanks, Sarah, for the loan of your soapbox! And to Pericles, for the quality of your response.

Posted by: piercello at March 06, 2006 08:02 PM (plBen)

11 I'll keep this one shorter. If I understand you, Piercello, your main point is that it doesn't do much good to say that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, because we did, and the question is what to do now. I'll be the furst to admit that I don't know what we should do now. I do disagree, though, about whether there is a point to talking about whether the original decision was a mistake. It is very relevant to certain upcoming decisions that we need to make... decisions about whom to vote for. What could be a more reasonable basis for decising whom to elect than the wisdom of their past political decisions?

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 09:16 PM (eKf5G)

12 I was aiming broader--speaking generally, it is more productive to argue about what to do than about what not to do. As you correctly point out, pounding the table and repeatedly saying that invading Iraq was wrong is useless; not only because that decision is irrevocable, but also because it fails to dive into the context of the decision and account for WHY it was made that way, which is the useful part for determining your vote. Like you, I will be looking at the wisdom of past political decisions, but I will also try to reward those politicians who have the courage/leadership to actually define their positions over those who won't, even if I disagree with those positions. In times like these, the wrong action may be catastrophic, but the error of inaction has the potential to be more so. But I sure would like to see some more attractive candidates, for once! Last time my choice, although clear, was not without reservation.

Posted by: piercello at March 06, 2006 10:46 PM (plBen)

13 I assume you mean that it was clear that you were voting for Bush. Let me ask you this, out of curiosity. Saddam was an awful tyrant well before 2000. If we are supposed to accept now that overthrowing an awful tyrant was a sufficient justification for the war, why wasn't Bush talking about the need to invade Iraq in the 2000 campaign? And please don't just say "9/11 changed everything." That is a blanket excuse for inconsistency. We already knew about Al Queda, so in terms of giving us new information 9/11 changed very little.

Posted by: Pericles at March 06, 2006 11:02 PM (eKf5G)

14 Your assumption is correct. I suspect that we also agree that it is an insufficient justification for war to remove a bloody tyrant, awful as he may be. And while I agree that 9/11 did not change everything, I would also point out that it constituted undeniable and unignorable proof that some of the people who (for whatever reason, real or imagined) passionately hate the United States had grown bold enough to act directly against this country. It thus became non-career-enhancing for our politicians to ignore this hate (as well as the vital piece of new information that Al-Q was willing and able to act on that hate in a spectacular fashion), and required that they present plans for doing something about it. Until that point had been reached, no politician could have undertaken such a venture. It is an uncommon politician who can rise above the short term and self-interest of day-to-day politicking to achieve the long view of a patriotic statesman without getting whacked with a hell of a big stick first. Thus the interminable UN resolutions and the odd congressional declaration advocating regime change--inaction under the guise of action is politically safer in the short term realm of election cycles where politicians prefer to confine their operations. The WMD argument which swayed many initial supporters of the invasion of Iraq now comes down to a few possibilities: 1. The Administration (to falsely generalize it into a monolith) was lying through its collection of teeth, horrendously overstating the danger, and is now trying to avoid admitting this. 2. The Administration was misled by consistently faulty intelligence from all over the world (the same information it would have had to know was false for option 1) and is now trying to avoid admitting THAT. 3. The Administration has found evidence of WMD's, but doesn't know where they went and is trying to keep that secret under wraps for fear of political consequences. 4. The Administration has in fact found WMD stockpiles, or knows something about where they went, and is keeping that information under wraps in exchange for international cooperation, perhaps regarding Iran. One of the problems in deciphering politics is that it is frequently more effective to keep on an adversarial colleague in a compromised state (for leverage) than it is to denounce and remove him. The game is played that way at all levels, from children to great nations (and media organizations--anywhere power collects), and has never been an exclusively American trait. Of the possibilities above, 1 and 3 strike me as the hardest to pull off in the climate of political intrigue. Avoiding career-ending embarassment is a powerful incentive, but so is destroying the careers of your opponents, and there are too many people involved for 1 and 3 to be plausible to me. The next six months will have much to say about 4... Remember, all of the nations play the Great Game, and most would like to see us taken down a peg or five, and the existence of damning information coming out of Iraq would explain some of the world reactions to the invasion in the first place. Sorry for the length; the subject matter doesn't lend itself well to concise summaries! Out of curiosity, what do you consider to be sufficient justification to invade another sovereign country? Regards, Piercello

Posted by: piercello at March 07, 2006 12:46 AM (plBen)

15 Off of the top of my head, I don't have a complete list of reasons that might justify invading a country. Pre-empting an imminent attack is certainly on the list, and I'd include the prevention of human rights abuses on a big enough scale: genocide, certainly. It seems to me that there are two different things involved in justifying any war. One is showing that it is permissible from the standpoint of international law (at least what international law should say) and the other is showing that it is worth it from the standpoint of your own national interest, which is what your soldiers signed up to protect. This last part makes it harder to justify a war on humanitarian grounds, although I don't think it is impossible. It is easier if it is a true multinational effort, so that the risk is shared. In a different world, without 9/11, maybe humanitarian intervention in Iraq could have been justified, if we had built a true coalition and had a plan for what to do after the military was defeated. As it stands, though, I see the invasion as a gift to Bin Laden; we are killing terrorists, but we are helping him to recruit more, and we took resources away for the hunt for him. Besides, a lot of people in the Bush administration, notably Rumsfeld, were supporters of Saddam under previous Republican regimes. I just don't think that this crew can expect to be taken seriously when they say now that Saddam had to go just because he was so oppressive. We've all seen the picture of the grinning Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam. Saddam was a brutal dictator when that picture was taken. If anyone is going to say that Saddam had to go just because of how he treated his own people, and have credibility, it has to be someone who would have refused to shake that hand. Sarah is going to tell us to start our own blog.

Posted by: Pericles at March 07, 2006 08:27 AM (eKf5G)

16 To get this back a little on track, I don't think that the patriotism of many Democrats can be questioned either. Some people on the left, maybe, but usually people far enough to the left that they can vote Democrat only by holding their nose. People I think of loosely as Greens. Although even many people in this camp, I think, are really patriots. They just have a very different vision of America's good than either Sarah's or mine. If I wanted to find examples of registered Republicans whom I couldn't call patriots, I think I'd look at plutocrats who sacrifice the country's best interest in the name of money. How about Duke Cunningham--is he a patriot?

Posted by: Pericles at March 07, 2006 08:43 AM (eKf5G)

17 Good morning Pericles, and anyone else who is still reading! In reverse order, Cunningham, although presumably patriotic in his youth and military career, gave up his patriotic status when he put his self-interest and its consequent damage to the United States and its governmental system before the integrity of his country. Also, why would you limit your definition of self-interested plutocrats to Republicans? Your point about consistency with respect to Rumsfeld, which I will respond to shortly ;-) , indicates nicely how universal to human nature the unease over hypocrisy really is; the prime criticism of any position has its roots in inconsistency, whether it is believed to be due to incompetence or untruthfulness, or some mix. Its relevance to the patriotism question comes in when conversations arise such as this one between those who hold differing viewpoints. If I bring you my opinion, an edifice of the facts I possess linked by logic, the only three avenues of meaningful challenge open to you are in the accuracy of my facts, the structural integrity of my logic and its complete foundation on the facts presented, and the evenhandedness of the standard of evidence by which my facts were selected. If you can successfully challenge any of these three things, and I still will not change my opinion, I have now laid myself open to the charge of choosing self-interest over patriotism, for my part in determining the best course for this country requires that I be as intellectually honest as possible. Anyone, whether Green, Democrat, Republican, or anything else, who will not engage in argument on that basis when trying to advocating policy that affects large numbers of people, I regard with deep suspicion. Present company, of course, excepted, as from what I can tell you don't fit that definition! Such debate is the best way to uncover reality, which always makes a better foundation for policy. This is the basis upon which I judge large parts of the media (as well as many politicians) to be acting unpatriotic, for they frequently cherrypick their facts, sometimes mis-stating them in the process, and then fail to challenge political statements on an evenhanded basis, with the discrepancy usually conforming to the political divide. If you assume that inconsistency is only apparent (because the biological structures underlying intelligence render it impossible, but that is another conversation!), you can assemble the various known pieces into a consistent shape that reveals unvoiced assumptions. In the case of many of the Democratic leadership, the most plausible consistent framework to me (given the facts I have!) is that of short-term domestic partisan gain, which indicates to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the seriousness of the global situation. The reason (at last!) that I find your critique of Rumsfeld et al unpersuasive is that I have a framework from which those actions appear consistent. The nature of geopolitics is not static, but relentlessly dynamic. Therefore, it is entirely plausible to me that the best available geopolitical strategy at the time (consistent with the constant goal of protecting the interests of the United States) could have been playing Iraq against Iran, bleeding them both down, wo that we would have more resources to deal with the larger threat the Soviet Union represented. Similarly, while going into Pakistan after Bin Laden would have been nice, doing so at that time was much more geopolitically dangerous (Pakistan/India nuclear tensions, and a fractious Iraq among others in the ME just looking for a chance to foment trouble, from an American perspective) and so did not advance American interests. With a scarcity of resources, best available solutions, while ideologically unsatisfying, still trump inaction. Of course, I'm a musician, so what do I know? ;-) I genuinely appreciate an honest debate, especially when it remains so delightfully civil! Piercello

Posted by: piercello at March 07, 2006 02:58 PM (plBen)

18 Oh, I have no doubt that the Republicans supported Saddam out of a judgment about how best to preserve America's interests. Maybe they were even right, although this may come down to a question about when and to what extent you can afford to think about your long-term interests in foreign policy as opposed to your short-term ones. But having shown themselves as players of realpolitik guided exclusively by their sense of American interests, I don't think they have much credibility when they talk about the invasion as a moral imperative necessitated by their concern for the well-being of Iraqi citizens.

Posted by: Pericles at March 07, 2006 03:29 PM (eKf5G)

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